“Are you still dating that what’s-his-name?”: and Other Holiday Party Conversation Killers

Ah, Christmas! What’s not to love about this season: the music, the chocolate, the chilly weather, the hot coco, the crackling fire, the time with loved ones…and, of course, the holiday parties. You know the ones: where one of your parents’ friends corners you in the buffet line to ask you what wonderful, exciting things you’ve been doing with your life, and you stand there with your plate in your hand, trying to formulate a polite response with one half of your brain while the other half engages in a fierce inner dialogue with your instinct to make a run for it and your craving for a slice of the honey-baked ham that comes only once a year. IT goes rather something like this:

“So how are you, honey? It’s so good to see you,” gushes friend-of-the-mother.
“Yes, likewise, it’s been so long,” I murmur. Hmm, there’s a spot on the couch next to Grandma; do I remain caught in a conversation with friend-of-the-mother about my nonexistent boyfriend or allow myself to become entrapped in an intellectual debate with Grandma about why anyone who’s read The DaVinci Code is (or is not) going to Hell? IN lieu of either, I consider stabbing myself repeatedly in the eye with a shrimp fork.

“So, how’s teaching?” Translation: I haven’t seen you since you were 5, so let’s talk about something while we’re cuing for our food. Let’s talk about work, for lack of a more stimulating subject.
“It’s going well. I really enjoy it.” Translation: I’m overworked and underpaid. Did you know that graduate teaching assistants at research institutions do roughly 60 % of the teaching and research and are the lowest-paid employees? Where’s the vodka?

“How’s your dissertation coming?” Translation: I thought you wanted to be a teacher, not a professional student. When are you going to get your degree and start teaching full-time so you can pay your parents back and they can finally retire and pay off their mortgage? (Insert small twinge of guilt as I remember that if not for me, my mother would probably be close to retirement).
“It’s coming along. It’s a fairly big project and a lot goes into it.” Translation: My dissertation is like an unruly toddler who spends its time pulling books off my shelves, climbing walls, and making a general mess of my life. Writing a dissertation is like being pregnant: all I do is eat and cry.

“Are you seeing anyone? Have you met anyone special?” Translation: where’s your boyfriend? Why haven’t you brought him? It’s time a nice Catholic boy put a ring on your finger so your father can stop worrying about you (AKA putting up with/supporting you)and pass the torch onto another poor sucker. (This is getting a bit too Bridget Jones, and I’m starting to glance anxiously around to make sure my parents haven’t invited any brooding young successful human rights lawyers in reindeer jumpers.)
“I’ve got a lot on my plate right now. I haven’t been dating much.” Alternatively: “My boyfriend is busy/working/visiting his family/under quarantine with mononucleosis.” Translation: Charley Brown’s Christmas tree has a longer life span than my relationships. If one more person asks me that question, I might seriously have to consider adjusting the brandy-to-eggnog ratio in my drink. Don’t force my hand.

“Your mom and I were at so-and-so’s baby shower last weekend. I remember when the two of you played dress-up.” Translation: Since we talked about marriage, you should have babies, lots of them, because Italians specialize in manufacturing robust, strong, well-fed babies, and you’re not getting any younger. (Apparently laundry isn’t the only thing in life I’m behind on. I really need to get my priorities sorted out, so it would seem).
“Yes, I’m really glad to hear she’s doing well.” Translation: That brat. Why is everyone my age married, engaged, or in a stable adult relationship? Last week I got an e-mail from a friend and her husband; they’re expecting their second child. Would people please stop setting such high standards? And about that biological clock innuendo, yes, it’s ticking, but I think I can afford to hit the snooze button a few more times.

Note: all of this is happening while friend-of-the-mother is helping me to food, because no one trusts the blind woman with a myriad of hot dishes that have spillage and splatter potential. Why don’t you just stick me at the little blue plastic kid’s table where I obviously belong, because I have no “real job”, no boyfriend/spouse, and no children, all of which, according to friend-of-the-mother, seem to be the minimum benchmarks for joining the adult table. Hmph.

“There you are, honey. Careful, it’s hot. There’s a seat on the couch right next to your grandmother.”

And off I scurry, careful not to spill my food, because grownups don’t spill food, and plunk myself down beside grandma to talk about the morally reprehensible Dan Brown, which is far more interesting than an episode of: this is your life, almost 30 and boring as Hell.

Then Dad comes over to refresh my drink, and suddenly, all is right with the world.

Question: How do you handle awkward holiday parties? Do you have a particularly cringe-worthy party experience?


  1. “Are you seeing anyone? Have you met anyone special?”

    I hate this question because it usually comes from people who are married/in relationships. I don’t go around asking them about their sex lives so I don’t know why they feel they have a right to ask me if I’m seeing anyone.

    Maybe next time someone asks me this, I’ll return with a “Have you started cheating yet?” question!

  2. John said

    Hmmm, well some version of this happened to me at my family’s Thanksgiving dinner. A woman I’d met here decided she wanted to come down with me, but that she had no real interest in it going any further than friendship. Of course my nosy folks, who think I should be paired up by now, asked many questions. It was all very awkward and I was glad when it ended. Very well-written post, I really enjoy the word usage here.

    • poetprodigy7 said

      It really is dreadful, and somehow it just makes you feel you’ve done something wrong. Stupid expectations.

  3. Nicki keck said

    As far as children goes, I get the opposite thing. people think i could never take care of one. Truth is, i would love to, but I can’t have them and am not going through all kinds of medical fertility treatments. I actually have a Christmas dinner tonight at church. I actually thought about trying to avoid it like the plague, but I can’t, so we’ll see how it goes. At least they can’t ask me about dating anyone.

    • poetprodigy7 said

      I think it’s hard, because people don’t really intend to be offensive when they ask these questions, and a lot of times they don’t realize that these might just be aspects of our lives that we want to change or are frustrated with, and we don’t want to talk about it in a social setting

  4. LWSpotts said

    I am eternally astonished at what others consider their business when you are single, especially when you are a single woman. Most of the obnoxious questions came from my grandmother, who never grasped that there are private topics, and most of the comments came from my Mom, who admittedly believed that adulthood did not truly commence until I was married (which at the time was not even on the horizon, despite the fact that I was over 30). Hmph!

  5. bleuebelle said

    Well, I think they are inwardly probably seething at the myriad of glittering opportunities that you have stretching out before you. I wish I had made the most of the sheer fun of being young, free and single. Or even of the prospect of driving; taking a shower, without world war three starting somewhere in the background 😉

    • poetprodigy7 said

      It’s annoying when you’re not ready to think about those sorts of questions, but when they’re things you want, and things that for innumerable reasons, aren’t practical for you to have right now, it can be an awkward, even painful topic. Unfortunately people, in their desire to see me happy, sometimes forget this.

  6. guate6 said

    I tend to shoot from the hip, and tell it to people how it is.

    • poetprodigy7 said

      That works, though my version of shooting straight from the hip is usually something along the lines of “Bugger off and keep out of my business, thankyouverymuch.”

  7. Def. agree w/you here. I go through this every holiday and every family gathering. It got to the point where I asked my family to just skip the relationship/job questions. Just ask how I am and if I have anything of interest to discuss (i.e. the convention that no one bothered to care about that I took part in 2 months ago.) I will, but if it’s not going to interest you, don’t even speak to me. I try to avoid long conversations w/family because ither the uncomfortable questions come, or the uncomfortable (and very awkward) comments come my way.

    Don’t feel bad: my life is just as boring; I have no boyfriend, no job.. The only exciting aspects of my life now is working out at the gym and volunteering w/the council of the blind chapter in my area. And I too get upset having to hear about people my (or above/below) age having the best life ever (i.e. graduating, getting a job, getting married, having kids, getting to travel etc – stuff I’ll never get to enjoy in my life time. Instead I just tune it out as if they aren’t “there” talking. God bless the IPhone/IPod because once dinner is over with, I high tail it to the couch and either listen to music, text or play games.

    • poetprodigy7 said

      I don’t really get upset hearing about it from others. IT’s selfish not to care about my friends. I get upset when I’m compared to others and made to feel like I should be doing what they’re doing. There’s a difference.

  8. “Writing a dissertation is like being pregnant: all I do is eat and cry.” That phrase and this whole post is so true. Tears of laughter. Less stressful to read up on sports and hang out with the guys.

    • poetprodigy7 said

      Glad you enjoyed. 🙂

  9. […] Posts: Never Give Up on Your Dissertation, for It is Crunchy and Goes Well with Ketchup “Are You Still Dating that What’s-his-Name?”: and Other Awkward Holiday Part conve… Rate this: Share this:FacebookTwitterLike this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

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